Death from lung cancers can be reduced by as much as a fifth of the population if there is regular screening by CT scan of current and former heavy smokers, a study said.

The study by the National Cancer Institute across the United States points that the reduction in fatalities could be because of the scans picking up cancer tumors at an early stage.

More than 53,000 smokers, both current and former in the age group of 55 to 74 were screened in the study. The effects of low-dose helical computed tomography (CT) and standard chest X-ray, the two screening procedures for lung cancer were studied. The volunteers participated in the study since 2002. Most of the heavy smokers had a history of smoking at least 30 pack-years without symptoms or history of lung cancer.

"Overall this study provides strong evidence that older patients who are at high-risk of developing lung cancer could benefit from CT screening and that's a significant finding." says Claudine Isaacs, MD, lead investigator of the NLST study at Lombardi. "We are grateful to all the men and women who participated in this important study. Clinical trials are critical to making progress in medicine.”

"These results are very encouraging," says Louis Weiner, MD, director of Lombardi. "Studies like these generate so much excitement, but clearly there is much more work to be done. Lombardi and other NCI-cancer centers continue to explore effective ways to reduce lung cancer deaths including prevention efforts and by conducting clinical trials with the newest available cancer fighting drugs."

Around 353 people had died from lung cancer in the CT group of the study as against 442 cancer deaths in those in the chest X-ray group, nearly 20.3 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality.

"Potentially, we could save thousands of lives with CT screening, but keep in mind that because smoking causes many lung cancers, we could save hundreds of thousands more if people wouldn't smoke or quit if they do," Isaacs said.